The first few days of free agency under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement sure do resemble the first few days under the old one.
Stars are still forcing their way onto teams of their choice, mediocre players are getting paid like superstars and the Cavaliers are standing idly by, watching the debris pile up around them.
Given the contracts handed out to guys like Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Landry Fields, it’s easy to see why the Cavs have committed to rebuilding their roster through the draft rather than free agency.
Key free agents wouldn’t come here when LeBron James played here and they’re certainly not coming now, but the dollar amounts being thrown at underwhelming and unproven players is staggering.
Lin had two dazzling months with the New York Knicks and parlayed it into a four-year, $31 million offer from the Houston Rockets.
Lin’s deal is backloaded, since he is a restricted free agent and the goal of every NBA team during the summer shopping period is to make a player’s current team choke on a “poison pill.”
In this case, the poison pill is a nearly $10 million salary in each of the last two years. If the Knicks match the offer, their luxury-tax penalties could soar to more than $30 million in a couple years.
No contracts can be officially signed until July 11 and restricted free agents’ current teams will then have three days to match the offer. The Knicks have made it clear they intend to match the offer, which will pay Lin more than $51,000 for every point he has ever scored in an NBA game.
That leaves the Rockets chasing Asik, who has played two years in the NBA and has career averages of 2.9 points and 4.4 rebounds. That’s enough for the Rockets to offer him $25 million for the next three seasons. Asik wisely agreed to the deal when he realized no other team would be crazy enough to pay him $15 million for the 2014-15 season, the same year LeBron James and Kevin Durant will each make about $20 million.
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey, incidentally, graduated from Highland High School. He has an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. But it doesn’t take a master’s degree to spot bad business in the NBA.
But the Rockets aren’t making all of the ridiculous deals these days.
The Suns traded away Goran Dragic and a first-round pick 16 months ago to the Rockets for Aaron Brooks, kept Brooks for half of a season and now will pay Dragic $34 million to come back. Not even Morey was crazy enough to match that offer.
The Toronto Raptors gave Fields, a restricted free agent with the Knicks, a three-year deal worth nearly $20 million. If Fields has any sort of conscience, he’ll give Steve Nash a 4 percent cut.
Fields has been in the league for two years and actually regressed last year, but the Raptors were so desperate to land Nash as a free agent that they threw $20 million at Fields to make it happen.
The NBA, it’s faaaaaantastic!
See, the Knicks were hot after Nash, too, and were discussing a potential sign-and-trade with the Suns to get it done. One of the key pieces that would’ve been going to the Suns was Fields, so the Raptors removed him from the conversation for a mere $20 million.
It’s sort of like being the millionth customer at Best Buy and getting rewarded with your own store. Fields just happened to be wandering by at the right time, and now he’s $20 million richer.
And Nash, incidentally, is now with the Los Angeles Lakers after politely asking the Suns to trade him there. So they did. And no amount of emails from Dan Gilbert will stop it.
All of this is why Cavs General Manager Chris Grant typically enters the free-agency pool with garlic, a crucifix and holy water. He has never been a proponent of spending big in free agency because the payoff for teams rarely meets the price, and once that bad contract is locked into the payroll, it’s difficult to move without taking back an equally ugly salary.
The Cavs have been high on Bucks restricted free-agent Ersan Ilyasova for a couple of years now, but the bidding on him could reach $10 million a season. I’d be surprised if the Cavs stay in it that long.
For two years now, Grant has bragged about the Cavs’ salary-cap flexibility. As the team improves, that won’t always be true. Eventually, Grant might have to hold his nose and wade into the free-agency pool.
Now, however, is not that time. Now is the time to sit back and enjoy another round of wreckage.
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are on the clock.
Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller signed their rookie contracts with the Cavs. Terms were not disclosed, but given the rookie wage scale, Waiters’ deal is likely in the neighborhood of four years and $16.7 million, while Zeller’s deal should be for about four years and $7.4 million.
The first two years on both contracts are guaranteed, and the following two are team options.
Waiters will make about $3.7 million this season, while Zeller will make about $1.6 million.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.